The month of February was officially recognized as Black History Month in 1976.
Before President Gerald Ford officially recognized it, students and educators at Kent State first celebrated Black History Month in February 1970. Black History Month is a prevalent and historical month because of the role people in the Black community have played during the development of the country through free, grueling work provided by slaves for nearly 200 years.
Black people also created many impactful patents and innovations in the realm of infrastructure, farming, postal services, cosmetics, and many others that helped catapult economic growth in America during its rise to prominence as a global power. It’s important to note that even though the historic events mentioned were a moment of the past, the current reality is that the Black professionals that we work alongside today are also a part of Black History.
In light of that, we’ve put together a guide on what leaders can do to intentionally honor Black History Month. We want to share ideas on what can be done to edify Black History Month in a way that is accessible for you and the teams you lead. The following are also ways you can support the Black community all year round.
Leading Team Members
Conduct a pay equity audit
A pay equity audit from a third-party source will give an employer a clear insight as to how salaries are distributed throughout the company. Unfortunately, in many companies, it is commonplace to give Black professionals low offers while their non-diverse counterparts earn 10-15% more on average. A pay equity audit will help close the wage gap while also holding leadership accountable for their practice revealed that nearly 60% of companies do voluntary pay equity audits. If you’re in the 40% that has not done one yet, you’re not alone. Now is a perfect time to make a shift.
Implement an inclusive interviewing process
Through our research, we know that 62% of job seekers report actively experiencing bias in the hiring process. An inclusive interviewing process can have a big impact on onboarding as well as retention. Your interview process may include diverse panels, questions based on a company’s core values, appropriate accommodations, and more. The key is that through a consistent and inclusive interview process, Black professionals will have more of an opportunity to be assessed fairly.
Audit the language your brand uses externally for unconscious bias
Though Mathison has an automated bias scanner that helps companies seamlessly develop more inclusive language in their internal and external communication, companies like Textio and others also exist. Oftentimes, when potential candidates see exclusive language, your company may be flagged in their minds as one that is not inclusive and they will be less likely to apply to your roles.
Review how project opportunities are distributed
Internal and external opportunities pop up, and when they do, think about how the opportunity is being distributed. Is the opportunity going to an internal team member or consultancy that you always work with, or are there Black professionals you know of that do great work? This process is going to vary for each company, but we want to encourage you to build relationships and engage with Black people and their companies regularly so that when an opportunity presents itself, you already have an idea of who to call. If you’re searching for DEI Consultants and experts, here are impactful DEI leaders to know:
Incorporate Rest into Your corporate calendar
Some Black employees may experience anxiety when overwhelmed by the competing priorities of work and attempt to cope while struggling to maintain their well-being. Usually, that happens due to the fear of losing their job if they attempt to set boundaries, leading to burnout and possibly other health-related issues. Encourage your Black employees to take time for themselves in order to recharge and return as their full selves.
Fund DEI work
For budget-controlling leaders, the current state of the economy causes them to draw pause for any expense including DEI. But, if social and civil history has taught us anything, it’s that DEI is incredibly important and should be prioritized just like other critical factors within the business. Though some DEI work can be done with a DIY mindset, most growing organizations will have a point where they need specialized DEI tools or support, and budgets should be allotted for it.
In addition to rest, leaders should hold space for their employees to connect to share thoughts about how they’re being impacted by recent political or social events, their lives in general, or other topics. Whether it is allotting 30 minutes or more biweekly for Black employees to connect could help inspire a sense of belonging, and ultimately retention. The allotment of time and cadence may vary, but programming time consistently depicts the commitment a company is willing to make. Also, allot a portion of your one-on-one calls with direct reports for open dialogue about their life if they’d like to share. You may learn things about your employee that they wouldn’t have shared if that wasn’t programmed into the meeting.
Ways to Personally Honor Black History Month
Watch a documentary about the Black experience
Watching a documentary about the Black experience can help one understand the Black perspective shown through the documentary. Here are some movies we would recommend this month.
Add some new podcasts to your queue
Podcasts also help elevate your perspective in order to hear diverse voices while running on the treadmill, driving to work, or relaxing. Though there are many Black producers and creators, here are a few that are on our list.
Read books written by Black authors, and discuss them
Update your algorithm with work from Black writers that write about their experiences. Here is a list of some of our highly suggested reads:
Become a corporate member of the NAACP
The NAACP is an impactful and longstanding organization dedicated to pushing back on and eradicating systemic racism and civil injustice. Anyone can become a member for an annual or lifetime fee, but your entire company can become a corporate member as well.
Host a team building and learning event or book club
One of the best ways to celebrate Black History is by embracing and enjoying cultural touchstones like books, films, art, music, and more. Get your company book club fired up with a new read, and host a Lunch & Learn discussion event or a service project with a nonprofit partner.
Hire a Black creative or artist — for a year-long contract
Hiring a Black creative or artist for Black History Month is a great way to honor and celebrate the culture, history, and achievements of Black people. It shows a commitment to recognizing and uplifting the voices of Black creatives and artists and provides an opportunity to help spread awareness and education surrounding the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of the Black community. It can also be an incredibly powerful statement of solidarity, and a great way to create a more inclusive atmosphere.
Create an internal mentorship program
As a leader, you may consider creating a mentorship program for Black employees to connect with mid to senior staff members and provide them with a platform to learn about developmental opportunities, express their ideas, and share their experiences with professionals. The potential information exchange shared amongst groups with that dynamic can prove to be immeasurable.
As we continue to honor Black History Month throughout the year, we encourage you to bookmark and revisit this article to gain a better perspective of the Black community’s experience in America.
Robert Woods is the Content Strategy & Marketing Manager at Mathison in addition to leading Mathison’s Black Employee Resource Group. He is the voice of Mathison’s Voices of Inclusion podcast and a US military veteran. To learn more from Robert, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.